Posts Tagged ‘Lou Reed’

Celebrating Lou Reed

Lou Reed Archive Now Available

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is thrilled to announce that the Lou Reed Archive has been processed and is now available to users. The Lou Reed Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life—from his 1958 Freeport High School band, the Shades, to his final performances in 2013.

How to Use and Access the Lou Reed Archive

Materials from the Lou Reed Archive are available onsite at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located in Lincoln Center.

  • Browse the Lou Reed finding aid.
  • Need help accessing materials remotely while we’re closed due to COVID-19? Request a virual consultation with Music & Recorded Sound Division staff here.

Listen Like Lou Playlist

As part of Lou Reed’s archives,  the Library for the Performing Arts also acquired his personal collection of LPs. His reflects the diversity of his interests, from the expected fellow punk-inspired artists like Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop, to opera, rap, and hip hop, to baroque instrumental suites and the Boston Pops orchestra. Because they are, by and large, commercial recordings, most can be found through your local branch or streaming service. We’ve compiled a Listen Like Lou playlist that reflects the LPs in his collection. Listen here

Lou Reed Reading List

The Library has created a book list dedicated to the great poet and musician in appreciation of his legacy. You can find the list here

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Lately I’ve been reading a book on a favourite artist which is ultimately about music and technology and the quest for a sonic purity in the context of rock and roll. “My Week Beats Your Year” is about Lou Reed. Yes, the Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground (VU), discovered by Andy Warhol and who worked with Bowie. He’s also the Lou Reed who walked away from rock ‘n’ roll’s drug-booze freak show of the 1970s to become a voice of reason and clarity about everything from the power of guitar and amplifier tones to the focused muscle-mind control of Tai Chi martial arts. 

In reading My Week Beats Your Year  a collection of fascinating interviews, compiled by Michael Heath and edited by Pat Thomas — we get a portrait of an artist discovering his true calling. There you also witness his frustration as a new generation of media seemed mostly focused on sensationalist retro history. From a publicity standpoint I suspect some blame lies with his handlers who I am guessing didn’t grasp what Lou was about and where he was heading. Thus he was put into situations which frequently turned hostile. Lou tries to talk about his music yet the reviewers fall back on insipid questions that had been covered and discussed to death everywhere else.

Across the interviews you start to side with Lou who could get quite aggressive with journalists.  I suspect that if his publicists had steered Lou more towards the audiophile leaning press High Fidelity, Stereo Review and Audio rather than the (admittedly influential, marketing wise) rock ‘zines like Creem and Rolling Stone he would’ve been much happier. All he really wanted to do was talk about the music. 

As I read “My Week Beats Your Year”, I recognized a compelling arc of artistic flower. Amidst this, an interesting detail emerges: Lou Reed was an audiophile at heart. I kind of knew this, but didn’t fully understand how deep his passion went into his soul. 

Right from the start, when the VU was recording its first two albums Lou was searching for distinctive sounds. Frankly, it is remarkable that MGM Records even released that second VU album, White Light White Heat, as it contains perhaps one of the most intentionally distorted recordings ever released. The story goes that the band was playing so loud the engineers walked out in disgust until they were done.  An exercise in magnetic tape over-saturation (which creates its own unique sonic texture) when you listen to the song “Sister Ray” it sounds like an eruption. In Spinal Tap terms, their amps “went to 11” but the tape recorder’s VU meters probably sat in the red zone most of it. And it sounds pretty amazing all things considered.

Fast forward through the 70s and we see Lou frustrated by not having complete control over his art. In response to this he created an album that is either considered by some as insane and others as absolutely brilliant. He delivered to RCA a recording that nearly killed his career: Metal Machine Music. Four sides of multi-tracked guitar feedback and distortion — it was even released in quadraphonic!  Lou defends its release to the point where you realize it really wasn’t a joke. He was into it. That album was recalled three weeks after its release yet it went on to become the stuff of legend. Eventually it was transcribed and performed live with other musicians, which even surprised Lou! Heck, he even played it live on tour.

In the 1980s Lou exited the fast rock ‘n’ roll life, re-emerging focused, mature and shockingly happy in long term relationships, most notably to performance and recording artist Laurie Anderson.  Free of drugs, booze and concern for what anyone thought, he was able to focus his passions for chasing perfect sound and unique guitar / amplifier tones. He had actually begun moving in that direction in the late 1970s with his “Binaural” recordings, Street Hassle and The Bells. The former album became the first commercially released pop record made using this microphone recording technique. It is also one of my all-time favourite Lou Reed records. The title track is particularly stunning, with its intimate, chamber-like cellos and haunting vocal layers (and an uncredited guest vocal appearance by Bruce Springsteen!). 

Lou’s later records are often overlooked beyond the New York album. There are some remarkable works worth exploring such as Set The Twilight Reeling from 1996, parts of which were recorded live in his home studio called “The Roof.” Ecstasy (from 2000) is a marvel of pure electric guitar and amplifier tonality (and some great songs to boot!). 

A song from that album — “Paranoia, Key of E” to open up a special playlist that I put together to accompany this quasi-review. On this playlist called “LouLou” you’ll hear a bunch of songs which I think are among Reed’s most fascinating accomplishments both sonically and musically. Listen for the interesting recording techniques, the distortion, amplifier tones, guitar sounds. Lou crafted sounds as well as songs.  This was a man who understood his instruments and what he needed to do to convey them to you effectively… so when you played them on your home stereos, you would be able to experience that same vibe that he got in the studio.

Reading My Week Beats Your Year you are presented with a portrait of an artist absolutely passionate about the power of sound and the underlying magic of rock and roll. Lou Reed remains a rock ‘n roll hero in that light, influenced by his heroes Little Richard and Bo Diddly and a multitude of Doo Wop groups. He was a keeper of the flame for future generations to discover. 

My Week Beats Your Year is a great place to begin appreciating him.  Buy the book and read it while listening to his music.

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I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says “It’s hard to give a shit these days…”

Indeed, Lou Reed always gave off the vibe of someone who didn’t give a shit – and moreover, someone who didn’t take any shit.  But beneath that hip veneer was an artist who cared deeply, and had the talents to express himself and his keenly-felt beliefs in song.  He was ready for a new start in 1988 when he began recording his first album for Sire Records after his second stint at RCA had concluded. New York would be an album-length reflection on the city that had been his muse, as gritty and grimy and thrilling as the city itself.  Recording with just two guitars, bass, and drums, New York was both an answer to the slick, high-gloss 1980s and an embrace of the primal sound of The Velvet Underground.  Upon its release in 1989, Reed’s high-concept, back-to-basics endeavor paid off.  New York earned him a No. 1 single and is still recognized as one of the finest and most cohesive of all his solo albums.  Rhino has just revisited the album as an expansive 3-CD/2-LP/1-DVD box set with a whopping 26 previously unreleased tracks among its treasures.

The decision was made to primarily record the twin guitars first – singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Reed on the left channel, Mike Rathke on the right channel – then Reed’s vocals and next, co-producer Fred Maher’s drums.  Rob Wasserman would later overdub his bass parts.  This approach ensured that Reed’s dense words would be front and centre.  The rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness, near-spoken delivery of “Romeo Had Juliette” set the sonic tone for the album: the backings are tight and spare, and never detract from the lyrics (sometimes in free verse without the expected rhyme scheme) yet are still varied in mood and tempo.  Co-producer Maher remembers in David Fricke’s exemplary liner notes that “people were always trying to talk Lou into singing.  But knowing what was quintessential Lou, I wanted to put that voice in front of everything.”

New York offers snapshots of the Koch-era city at the brink, playing like a movie in miniature at 57 minutes.  That length caused consternation for some Sire executives but hardly seems indulgent in the CD/digital era.  Their trepidation over how the album would sound on two sides of vinyl has been rendered moot here, anyway, as it’s presented on two platters (four sides of vinyl) in addition to CD.

Reed’s language is harsh but his attitude is affectionate on “Halloween Parade,” subtitled “AIDS”: “You won’t hear those voices again…you’ll never see those faces again,” he laments.  Underneath the cool aura and descriptions of boozers and hookers, Reed underscored the tremendous loss felt by New York’s artistic community due to the scourge of AIDS.  His heart-breaking realization that “it makes me mad and mad makes me sad/And then I start to freeze…” epitomizes this haunting reflection.

Reed earned a No. 1 single on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart with “Dirty Blvd.”  The three-chord rocker contrasts the rich and the poor in typically frank, blunt terms (“Give me your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ’em/That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…”).  But Reed’s comes to the fore with the song’s affection for young Pedro, a victim of child abuse living on welfare at the Wilshire Hotel: “He’s found a book on magic in a garbage can/He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling/’At the count of three,’ he says, ‘I hope I can disappear, and fly, fly away.”  Reed’s pal Dion DiMucci brings a bit of New York verisimilitude as he chimes in on the closing background vocals, touchingly affirming Pedro’s prayer.  “Endless Cycle,” too, touches on child abuse and the ravages of drink and drugs over a gentle yet hypnotic, almost country-style gait.

With the aggressive “There Is No Time,” Reed calls for political action.  It’s one of the most urgent tracks on New York and like “Dirty Blvd.,” one that speaks loudly in 2020.  “This is no time for political speech/This is a time for action/Because the future’s within reach/This is the time,” implores Reed before the song concludes in a barrage of feedback.  He’s similarly pointed in the ecologically-minded “Last Great American Whale,” widening his scope to castigate those who would destroy nature.

The bitingly cynical “Busload of Faith” is seemingly a contradiction in terms; Reed observes that “You need a busload of faith to get by” while excoriating those who would profess to espouse faith (“You can’t depend on any churches/Unless there’s a real estate you want to buy”).  It’s one of his darkest lyrics set to one of the album’s most accessible melodies and catchiest choruses.  To a twangy quasi-country beat, a Dylan-esque flow of words, and a poppy refrain, “Sick of You” is startlingly recognizable today as Reed name-checks the Trumps and then-prosecutor Rudy Giuliani among the characters in its increasingly surreal narrative.

On the back cover of the original LP, Reed urged listeners to play New York in one sitting from start to finish, “as though it were a book or movie” – or a play.  On the tour supporting the album, Reed staged five performances on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, which most recently housed the musical Frozen until the outbreak of COVID-19.  The surroundings of the St. James would almost certainly have heightened the inherent theatricality of the song cycle.  The imagery of the “Statue of Bigotry” recurs in “Hold On,” an encapsulation of the darkness that had enveloped the city and that he had catalogued throughout New York.  “You better hold on – something’s happening here,” he intones over a churning but energetic rock rhythm.  That darkness, alas, hasn’t abated; the lyric mentions Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs, two African-Americans shot by police in 1983 and 1984, respectively.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Reed’s turbulent portrayal of New York circa the late eighties with current events today.  On “Xmas in February,” the artist demands attention to be paid to disenfranchised veterans.  Classic rock riffage abounds on “Strawman,” an anthem decrying racism, hypocrisy, and the “greed is good” mentality (“Does anyone really need another President, or the sins of Swaggart Parts 6, 7, 8 and 9/Does anyone need another politician caught with his pants down, money sticking in his hole?”).  He takes further aim at hypocrisy on the punk-ish inner monologue “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim,” pointing his finger not just at the diplomat Kurt Waldheim (whose career ended in a swirl of revelations about his complicity in Nazi war crimes) but also the Pontiff, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan.

Yet it’s not all sturm und drang.  Reed co-wrote “Beginning of a Great Adventure” with Mike Rathke.  Over a jazz-inflected, finger-snapping backing, the singer turns to the personal, ruminating on parenthood with wry humour.  (Reed had no children.)  New York ends on a nostalgic note with “Dime Store Mystery,” subtitled “To Andy-honey.”  The Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker dropped in on drums for this elegiac but jagged, pensive salute to their old friend Warhol who had died in 1987 at just 58 years old.  This track was recorded live by Reed, Rathke, and Wasserman with Tucker.

The wealth of supplemental material explores New York from every angle.  The second disc reprises the album’s fourteen tracks in sequence from various live performances again featuring Rathke and Wasserman.  On these dates (Washington, DC; Baltimore; London; Richmond, Virginia; Copenhagen; and Upper Darby (outside Philadelphia), PA) which are assembled in the manner of a single concert, Reed and his band played New York for Act One, and a “greatest hits” encore set for Act Two, but that encore is not represented on this disc.  The live take on “Dime Store Mystery” from the Virginia show has Maureen Tucker guesting.  (She and her band Half Japanese opened one leg of the tour.)

A live show from the same 1989 tour, recorded in Montreal, Canada, is included on DVD but again only has Act One of Reed’s touring show.  (It was previously available only on VHS and Laserdisc as The New York Album.)  Reed clearly believed in these songs, uncompromisingly sharing them from city to city and in doing so, revealing the universal truths that propelled them.  Though his vocals were often detached, there’s no doubt in these visceral and utterly confident audio and video performances that he believed every word and knew how to communicate them to an appreciative audience.  In addition to the concert, the DVD also contains two audio bonuses: the entire album in high-resolution stereo, and a chat with the late artist.

The third CD compiles 14 rarities and previously unreleased tracks including rough mixes, work tapes, alternates, the single remix of “Romeo Had Juliette” and its acoustic B-side version of “Busload of Faith,” the non-LP side “The Room,” and live versions of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and Reed’s solo hit “Walk on the Wild Side” from the Richmond second act encore.  Both “Dirty Blvd.” and “Sick of You” are heard in two versions: first, mainly instrumental demos from August 1st, 1988 and then in rough mixes from late in the month made at NYC’s Mediasound studio.  These tracks – many of which were sourced from cassettes now residing in the Lou Reed Archive at the New York Library for the Performing Arts – collectively illustrate how seriously Reed took the recording and compositional aspects of his music; on the work tape of “Endless Cycle,” he sings the bass and drum parts as he envisions them.  There’s terrific energy even on the simple instrumental take of “Last Great American Whale” from a work tape of Reed and Rathke rehearsing.  The frequently raw rough mixes are equally compelling.  Some lack central elements of the finished mixes such as the drums on “Sick of You,” while others like “Strawman” are strong and seemingly finished in their own right.  (Tantalizingly, the notes and images show that more demos and rehearsals relating to New York exist within the Archive, though it’s difficult to argue with the curated selection here.)

It’s no surprise that New York sounds so good on this deluxe set, as it was recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser whose diverse credits include Rupert Holmes’ Widescreen, Barbra Streisand’s Lazy Afternoon, and Strawbs’ Deep Cuts.  (Lesser even provided some background vocals with Reed.)  The stellar remaster comes courtesy of the set’s co-producer, Bill Inglot, and Dan Hersch.  The 3 CDs, 2 LPs, and 1 DVD are housed in what’s by now a familiar Rhino format, the LP-sized hardcover.  The full-sized 16-page booklet has David Fricke’s essay, archivist Don Fleming’s notes, lyrics, original credits, and copious images.

New York just might be Lou Reed’s most powerful solo statement.  More than 30 years on, it’s more relevant than ever as it captures the energy, drama, violence, tension, excitement, sadness, and passion that still animate the city.  Rhino’s deluxe reissue makes for a worthwhile trip back to that dirty boulevard.

New York is available now 

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Live At Alice Tully Hall - January 27, 1973 - 2nd Show (black Friday 2020)

“Live at Alice Tully Hall” January 27th, 1973 2nd show captures Lou Reed’s New York City live debut as a solo artist at the Lincoln Center venue during his “Transformer” tour. This show was billed as the emergence of Lou Reed (as separate from the Velvet Underground). VU had long disappeared and Reed had done little till one day there were stunning posters all over the New York subway. Reed was shown in white grease paint and close cropped black hair (very Dracula like). Under his image was the title “Where Will You Be When Lou Reed Emerges from the Underground on January 27th at Alice Tully Hall?,

The poster got the attention of everyone in the NY avante garde and glitter rock scence and foretold the coming of Punk. Just over a year later Television began playing at CBGB and a new scene was born.

He was backed by the Tots, a tight, funky twin guitar combo whose gritty, bar band approach offered an energized approach to Lou Reed’s material whether it was the Velvets (“Heroin,” “Sweet Jane”) or material from his first two solo albums (“Walk on the Wild Side,” “Vicious”). mixed from the original multi track tapes by Matt Ross spring, these 14 tracks are available for the first time. the recording will be released on two Lps pressed on burgundy vinyl and packaged with a new essay by ed mccormack, includes rare pictures and memorabilia.

The Tots: Bass – Bobby Resigno Drums – Scottie Clark Guitar – Eddie Reynolds, Vocals, Guitar – Lou Reed

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A newly remastered deluxe edition of Lou Reed’s “New York” will include 26 previously unreleased recordings.  The 1989 album will be given its first remastering in a massive deluxe edition by Rhino Records, out September 25th.

Originally released in 1989, New York marked the 15th album of Reed’s solo career. Hailed by critics and fans alike, the LP would go down as one of the rocker’s strongest efforts, earning Reed his first Grammy nomination. Notable tracks from the LP include “Busload of Faith” and the modern rock chart-topper “Dirty Blvd.”

The new expanded reissue of New York will include a remastered version of the original album on CD and vinyl, along with 26 previously unreleased studio and live recordings culled from Reed’s archives. These include demo versions and alternate mixes of many of New York’s songs. Bonus material includes live renditions of the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane” and “Walk on the Wild Side,” Reed’s hit single from 1972’s Transformer. The first CD makes up the remastered album, the second CD consists of live versions and the final disc contains unreleased early versions of the album’s tracks.

A concert film, The New York Album, will also be included in the set. The recording, which captures Reed performing the entire LP live in Montreal at the Theatre St. Denis, was previously released in 1990 on VHS and laserdisc. The long out-of-print video makes its DVD debut here; it’s also being made available on streaming services.

A hardcover book accompanies the New York: Deluxe Edition set. It features new liner notes written by David Fricke, along with essays from archivist Don Fleming. Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, and recently deceased music producer Hal Willner also contributed to the book’s publication.

The New York: Deluxe Edition comes out September. 25th. It’s available for pre-order now.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 18TH: American musician Lou Reed performs live on stage at Carré in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 18th June 1989. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

When John Cale left the influential iconic The Velvet Underground it was mostly because of his tense relationship with the late great legend Lou Reed. But in 1990 they both teamed up again to honour their inspirator Andy Warhol, with the masterly album ‘Songs For Drella‘, released over 30 years ago, on 11th April 1990.
Warhol had died three years before, in 1987. Drella was his nickname, a contraction of Dracula and Cinderella.

Lou Reed & John Cale forgot about their intolerable differences that drove The Velvet Underground apart back in 1968. Well they did as long as it toke to create this exceeding album in honor of versatile artist Andy Warhol who died in 1987. The fact that Reed & Cale became musical friends again, at least temporarily, proves that Warhol must have had an enormous impact on the giant duo when they picked up an instrument for the first time.

Even more than we knew. In return the pair created this beauty of an album. The warm and charismatic voices of both Reed and Cale are upfront all the time. They tell stories about their relationship with Warhol, they sing to celebrate their inspirer, they play intimate in respect for an eccentric and stirring mind. Even after his death Warhol pushed the legendary duo to produce an especial work of art.

This memorable record shows, once again, how brilliant these two splendiferous artists could be together. Thanks to their huge songwriting skills and imposing voices they made out of each of the 15 songs a compelling experience. A masterpiece indeed!.

Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “Both now nearing fifty, Reed and Cale are the survivors Warhol wasn’t fated to become. In popular music, only bluesmen and country greats have managed the maturity these two display. Fashioning a litany out of Warhol’s off-kilter pantheon Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name and Valerie Solanis (whose attempted murder of Warhol prefigured the shooting of John Lennon)  “Drella” memorializes an era the way narrative folk music generally has done. Reed and Cale add rare intelligence to their nostalgia, but it’s on a more soulful level that Drella finally hits. The subtle values of modesty, hesitance and loving observation dignify this sweet and knowing tribute to these men’s mentor, prod — and friend.”

Top Tracks: “Nobody But You / Open House / Style It Takes / Small Town”

Release date: April 11th, 1990,

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Lou Reed - Ecstasy

“Ecstasy” is the eighteenth solo studio album by American musician Lou Reed, released in 2000. It is a concept album about Reed’s personal experiences with marriage and relationships and is his final rock album

Ecstasy is even more impressive. Dominated emotionally by dark songs about extreme sex and relationships gone sour, it will once again be linked to Anderson, even though many of its details diverge radically from what everyone knows about the couple’s life together — that they have no children, for instance. Resist the impulse to turn music into gossip and hear Ecstasy for what it is  a complex, musically gorgeous synthesis of the obsessions that powered Reed’s failed 1973 Berlin and his great marriage albums of the early Eighties, especially The Blue Mask.

Since happy love is much rarer in good art than it is in good lives, Twilight remains moderately miraculous — far from innocent of struggle and doubt, it’s nevertheless the most openhearted, sweet-tempered record Reed has ever put out there. It was only a moment, though, and on Ecstasy he says hello to his old demons. Masking profound rage with bitchy back talk, Reed’s romantic egotism has always doomed his personal and artistic commitments — he needs new sensations. But perhaps because he’s put in two decades as an attempted mensch, first with ex-wife Sylvia Morales and then with Anderson, his demons now sometimes seem more like daemons, geniuses, as on the passionately impenetrable title song, which is about a soul-shaking sexual adventure by or with a mythified someone who could be rough trade or a prominent New York performance artist. On the amazing “Mad,” Lou’s tirade after he’s caught cheating — “You said you’re out of town for the night/And I believed in you/I believed you” lays open the asshole he knows himself to be without apologizing for his base-line arrogance. And the impossible marriages of “Tatters” and “Baton Rouge,” both carefully fictionalized, are sketched with the kind of intimate incidental detail only appreciated by someone who has learned from experience how specific relationships are.

Add several paeans to the perverse — among them a hopeless declaration of sexual indenture and a moaned and shouted eighteen-minute noisefest, and three off-message changes of pace that include a slave’s freedom rant and an upliftingly spiritual closer — and the complexity of Reed’s conception should be clear. Words, however, are truly only half of it. Understandably, Reed’s old fascination with sadomasochistic transcendence puts off those who don’t swing that way at least a little. But the music on this record, its gorgeous part, could change that.

Together with his longtime guitarist Mike Rathke and the ever-more-fluid bassist Fernando Saunders, Reed has gradually adjusted his trademark minimalism toward a body-friendly responsiveness. The guitar hooks on “Mad” and “Ecstasy,” far less trebly and staccato than the Velvet Underground norm, render those demented statements rather beautiful — touching and vulnerable alongside hateful and proud. And while the timbre of Reed’s Sprechgesang will never again be as supple as in his moments of youthful lyricism, like “Pale Blue Eyes,” his sere thoughtfulness here is at least as tender — his perspective seems like mature understanding rather than neurotic distance. If rock is to be an art form — and, come on, it’s earned the option — best it should honor life’s physical reality as unmistakably as this music does. Let his fellow big shots respect him. Us guys’ll just give him R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Heavyweight Double LP reissue of Lou Reed’ s 18th and final (non-collaborative) solo rock album “Ecstasy”, Originally released in 2000.

Never let it be said that Lou Reed has lost the ability to surprise his audience; who would have thought that at the age of 58, on his first album of the new millennium, Reed would offer us an 18-minute guitar distortion workout with lyrics abut kinky sex, dangerous drugs, and (here’s the surprise) imagining what it would be like to be a possum? For the most part, Ecstasy finds Reed obsessed with love and sex, though (as you might expect) his take on romance is hardly rosy (“Paranoia Key of E,” “Mad,” and “Tatters” all document a relationship at the point of collapse, while “Baton Rouge” is an eccentric but moving elegy for a love that didn’t last) and Eros is usually messy (“White Prism”), obsessive (“Ecstasy”), or unhealthy and perverse (“Rock Minuet”). Reed genuinely seems to be stretching towards new lyrical and musical ground here, but while some of his experiments work, several pointedly do not, with the epic “Like a Possum” only the album’s most spectacular miscalculation. Still, Reed and producer Hal Wilner take some chances with the arrangements that pay off, particularly the subtle horn charts that dot several songs, and Reed‘s superb rhythm section (Fernando Saunders on bass and Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums) gives these songs a rock-solid foundation for the leader’s guitar workouts. As Reed and his band hit fifth gear on the album’s rousing closer, “Big Sky,” he once again proves that even his uneven works include a few songs you’ll certainly want to have in your collection — as long as they’re not about possums.

Track 4 from his eighteenth solo album “Ecstasy” released in 2000 copyright Sire Records. This album was his last solo release before his death in 2013. It was well received by critics as another strong album, some say his “masterpiece.” Written by Lou Reed and produced by Lou Reed & Hal Willner. RIP Lou & Don Alias. Featuring: Lou Reed – Lead vocals, lead & rhythm guitars, percussion on “White Prism” Mike Rathke – Lead & rhythm guitars Fernando Saunders – Bass & background vocals Tony “Thunder” smith – Drums, percussion & background vocals Special Guests: Don Alias – Percussion on “Ecstasy” Laurie Anderson – Electric Violin on “White Prism”, “Rouge” & Rock Minuet” Steven Bernstein – Trumpet & horn arrangements Doug Wieselman – Baritone & tenor saxes Paul Shapiro – Tenor sax Jane Scarpantoni – Cello

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When the Velvet Underground’s second album descended on the world in January, 1968, nobody was ready for it. As the story goes, it was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time. For its 45th anniversary it was reissued in expanded, remastered form, and listening to White Light/White Heat now. The Velvet Underground and Nico, the year before, had had Andy Warhol’s imprimatur to promise that its passages of bleeding-raw chaos were art; it had also had the complicated but unmistakable beauty of the songs Nico sang as a lifeline for the tiny mainstream audience that caught on to it at the time. White Light/White Heat didn’t have that either.

By the time they released it, the Velvets were downplaying the art-world connection (despite the very arty slash in the album’s title, and the fact that its black-on-black sleeve was designed by the Factory’s Billy Name). Nico was now out of the band, although bassist John Cale would continue to work with her for years. And the album was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time: six songs with lyrics designed to horrify the bourgeoisie (not that they’d have listened to the Velvet Underground in the first place), ending with a one-take, two-chord, 17-minute speed freakout. It clung to the bottom of the album chart for two weeks, disappeared, and went on to become the glorious, tainted fountain from which all scuzz flows.

That’s the White Light/White Heat of legend, anyway, keeping time was never their strong point—it’s been reissued in expanded, remastered form, as if what this pinnacle of sloppy noise needed was remastering. As always, the title track, which seems like it should start cold with Cale and Sterling Morrison’s backing vocals, sounds like it’s had a little trimmed off the top to remove an extraneous sound—although, of course, extraneous sounds are kind of the whole point of this album. When I first bought it in 1973, when I first became a Lou Reed fan, but over the years I have become to love it almost as much as “VU and NIco”. It is certainly harder to get into on first listenings, at least for someone who likes 3-minute songs and nice melodies – “Here She Comes Now” is about the only song on the original album you could call “pretty”. But it is an absolute classic. Side 2 of the original album has become my favourite side, with “I Heard Her Call my Name” an amazing bit of guitar playing, must have been one of the wildest songs ever recorded at that time, and “Sister Ray” at 17 minutes long, wasn’t exactly designed for maximum radio airplay.

Lou Reed’s song writing is often a lot more conventional than it’s reputed to be. Strip away the noise and flash and references to illicit drugs and sex, and “White Light/White Heat”, “Here She Comes Now”, and “I Heard Her Call My Name” are all the sort of simple rock’n’roll that Reed had been cranking out at Pickwick Records a couple of years earlier. (So is “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, recorded in scorching instrumental form at the White Light sessions.

If you get the 45th anniversary 2-CD version you are getting the best value for money, with various extra tracks, not all of them essential, but “Stephanie Says” is an absolutely beautiful song, and there is a wonderful, chugging, early version of “Beginning to see the Light”, and of course you get the excellent “Live at the Gymnasium” as well.

On the Anniversary set, the live disc appended to this edition is a reminder that the Velvet Underground were radical in a totally acceptable way for their time—that, professionally speaking, they were a party band with an audience of hippies, who appeared on bills with the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Chicago Transit Authority the year White Light/White Heat came out. The performance, apparently from John Cale’s collection, was recorded at the Gymnasium in New York in April, 1967 (two of its songs previously appeared on the 1995 Peel Slowly and See box set). It presents the Velvets as a full-on boogie band, whose set is bookended by the instrumental grooves “Booker T.” and “The Gift”—turns out they’re slightly different songs, contrary to what VU fans have assumed for the past few decades. The rest of the gig includes what might or might not have been the first public performance of “Sister Ray” (it was still a very new song, at any rate), and one legit addition to the canon: “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore”, a chugging electric blues that wouldn’t have been out of place in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s early repertoire.

What possessed Cale to start playing an out-of-time, two-note bass part louder than anything else at the end of “White Light/White Heat”, and how could he have guessed that that was a great idea? Was the famous split-second pause before Reed’s splatter bomb solo on “I Heard Her Call My Name” intentional? What the fuck was up with Reed filling in words—”SWEETLY!”—in the middle of Cale’s vocal on “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, and why is it still hilarious? Speaking of that song, might lyrics about a delicate hypersexual creature interacting with “another curly-headed boy,” directly followed by a medical horror-show, have anything to do with a curly-headed songwriter who was given electroconvulsive therapy to “cure” his bisexuality as a teenager? Why is “Sister Ray” way, way more potent than any other extended jam on a simple riff by any other American band of the 60s?

It’s surprising to hear anything besides the universe catching its breath after “Sister Ray” ends, but the first disc of this reissue is filled out with other previously released evidence of John Cale’s final months in the Velvet Underground: the instrumental “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, both versions of the electric-viola showcase “Hey Mr. Rain”, and the band’s thoroughly charming stab at making a commercially viable single, “Temptation Inside Your Heart”/”Stephanie Says”. There’s also a previously unheard alternate take of “I Heard Her Call My Name” (not quite as good as the official one, and mostly interesting to hear which of Reed’s apparent ad-libs weren’t), and one fascinating curio: an early version of “Beginning to See the Light”, recorded at the “Temptation Inside Your Heart” session. By the time the song appeared on The Velvet Underground in 1969, it had become lither and wittier, and Reed had sharpened a few of its lyrics; this broad-shouldered, clomping version is distinctly not there yet, but everything the Velvets released on their official albums is so canonical that it’s strange and heartening to realize that their songs didn’t just spring into existence already perfect.

Watch Lou Reed Perform "Walk on the Wild Side" & More in 1986

Lou Reed’s solo work has been argued about for decades. Is 1973’s Berlin the stuff of genius or a paranoid lunatic? Is 1975’s Metal Machine Music groundbreaking or truly unlistenable? That’s up to the listener to decide, but whatever you think about Lou Reed’s solo material, you have to applaud his creative ambition.

If you can’t wrap your head around some of Reed’s stranger material, there are songs from 1972’s Transformer that everybody can get behind. The David Bowie-produced Transformer featured some of the greatest songs of Reed’s career like “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Satellite of Love” and “Vicious.”

This day in 1986, Lou Reed performed at the Ritz in New York City to promote his 14th album Mistrial with a four-piece backing band—Woody Smallwood (keyboards), Rick Bell (saxophone), Fernando Saunders (bass) and J.T. Lewis (drums). Reed performed selections from Transformer, Mistrial and even Velvet Undeground’s Loaded.

Setlist: 0:00:00 – Real Good Time Together 0:06:02 – Sweet Jane 0:11:29 – Turn To Me 0:17:09 – New Sensations 0:24:51 – Satellite Of Love 0:30:19 – Satellite Of Love cont’d 0:32:09 – Underneath The Bottle 0:35:38 – No Money Down 0:39:34 – Mistrial 0:44:17 – The Last Shot 0:52:26 – Walk On The Wild Side 0:59:47 – Street Hassle 1:04:33 – Tell It To Your Heart 1:14:41 – I Remember You 1:19:32 – I Love You Suzanne 1:23:29 – The Original Wrapper 1:30:59 – Doin’ The Things We Want To 1:39:22 – Video Violence 1:47:57 – Legendary Love 1:51:27 – Vicious 1:54:54 – Down At The Arcade 1:59:34 – Rock & Roll

Sleeve for Lou Reed's Transformer

Commercial success and critical acclaim together or apart are not really the true measure of an artist’s work. History and public acceptance can ‘transform’ the perspective and create a re-evaluation, or revisionist history towards how the art is viewed. No other work quite typifies this more than Lou Reed with his second solo effort “Transformer”.

Transformer is an incarnation of Reed at his most tuneful and accessible, just right for an almost-teenager. Just wrong, you might say. If the swooping basslines and whooping choruses drew me in, the lyrics kept me riveted and puzzling. “Shaved her legs and then he was a she” I could work out. But what was the “Up-all-oh”? “Angel dust”? “Giving head”? What about “hustler”? Oh, how Google would have helped me then

With the Velvet Underground, Reed became a beacon to the outsider experience and while album sales were low, critics and musicians had found a kind of anti-hero on whom to heap praise. Once the Velvets had broken up, Reed continued his stories and of counter-culture misfits but to a more commercialized effect on Transformer. Produced by David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson, Transformer would be heavily influenced by Bowie’s then ‘glam’ movement and blur the same androgynous lines can be heard singing backing vocals (his falsetto seems obvious on Satellite of Love, . However, Reed would use his own brand of wry observation and deadpan delivery to create characters that lived with and amongst his crowd as opposed to embodying the characters space as Bowie did with Ziggy and Aladdin Sane.

As with its predecessor Lou Reed, Transformer contains songs Reed composed while still in the Velvet Underground (here, four out of ten). “Andy’s Chest” was first recorded by the band in 1969 and “Satellite of Love” demoed in 1970; these versions were released on VU and Peel Slowly and See, respectively. For Transformer, the original up-tempo pace of these songs was slowed down.

“New York Telephone Conversation” and “Goodnight Ladies” are known to have been played live during the band’s summer 1970 residency at Max’s Kansas City; the latter takes its title refrain from the last line of the second section (“A Game of Chess”) of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land: “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.”, which is itself a quote from Ophelia in Hamlet.

As in Reed’s Velvet Underground days, the connection to artist Andy Warhol remained strong. According to Reed, Warhol told him he should write a song about someone vicious. When Reed asked what he meant by vicious, Warhol replied, “Oh, you know, like I hit you with a flower”,resulting in the song “Vicious”.

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Oddly, it was “Walk On The Wild Side” a song that spoke of transsexuality, oral sex and drug use that propelled the album to heights neither seen by the Velvet Underground or Reed himself in previous efforts. It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that “Perfect Day” would become an underground hit. The supposed ode to his drug habit, Perfect Day, only works because, no matter who the song is dedicated to, it is a beautiful ballad. Then there is the epic, neon-drenched goodbye to his association with Andy Warhol and his factory acolytes,

On its release in 1972, Transformer was given mixed reviews by critics who claimed it was overly “art-y” and overly sexual. History of course has shed new light and Transformer has made just about every magazines ‘Best All-Time’ list. There was a BBC documentary devoted entirely to Walk on the Wild Side. My questions were answered. There was Holly, who did indeed “come from Miami FLA”. It turned out “Up-all-oh” was the Apollo theatre in Harlem, and “Sugar Plum fairy” a drug dealer. Though Candy and Jackie had departed this world, Joe Dallesandro was there, wistfully contemplating wasted opportunities. And then there was Lou – decked out in leather jacket and leathery skin – complaining about people using Walk on the Wild Side without permission.

Despite, or maybe due to its recognition, finding vinyl editions of Transformer is pretty easy, but figuring out what works best for you might get a little more difficult. You can find used copies pretty much anywhere. I’m sure a lot of people who bought Transformer to get similar material to “Walk On The Wild Side” only to find that it wasn’t like that. As for new, eight official vinyl editions have come out since 2004 with four in just the last three years. On RSD 2012 a straight re-issue was put out in record stores, and is still the most common new copy you will find. In 2013 – 2014 unofficial green and blue versions were released in the UK. Finally, a few weeks ago Newbury Comics put out a Limited Edition half black and half gold version. There were 1200 copies printed and each was gold stamp numbered.

Due to the sheer amount of what is available, you can get most copies of Transformer for less than $30.00 (including the unofficial UK copies). Only the Newbury edition is commanding high prices on the resale market, and that’s pretty damn silly, because you can still get a copy from Newbury for less than $30.00. The split colour looks awesome and indeed sounds great.

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You can get it here. Anyway, with his recent induction into the “Rock Hall of fame” you can expect some renewed interest and copies of Transformer may begin to disappear. You might want to give that some thought this time if you’ve been sitting on the fence.

Last November, on the 45th anniversary of Lou Reed’s legendary Transformer album, photographer Mick Rock joined Rolling Stone editor David Fricke in a conversation for readers at the New York Public Library. Marking the anniversary, Mick kindly signed 45 bookplates specially for readers around the globe. Accordingly, 45 Collector copies are now available, each additionally including:

  • The new 24-page booklet with an essay by Mick Rock and 50 previously unpublished photographs
  • The looseleaf ‘Rock and Roll Heart’ facsimile handwritten lyric sheet
  • The commemorative New York Public Library bookplate signed by Mick Rock on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Transformer
  • Transformer book bag and publishing prospectus

Transformer